Trouble sleeping? Understanding your sleep wake cycle can be a great tool to help you fight jet lag and disturbed sleep patterns caused by a stressful or hectic schedule.
So how does it all work?
Your circadian rhythm or biological clock is ruled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is located in the hypothalamus.
Other physical components of your body that are involved in regulating your circadian rhythm are your eyes and the pineal gland, which is a pea-size gland located in the middle of your brain.
In a perfect circadian rhythm world, all human beings would get up when the sun rises and go to sleep when the sun sets.... Difficult to do, especially in the northern regions where there is no sunshine in the winter months...
Our body responds to the changes between light and dark through the production of melatonin. Here is how it works: The retina of your eyes senses light and a signal is transmitted to the pineal gland. At night, when there is no light sensed by your retina, the pineal gland secretes melatonin into the bloodstream.
During the day, the light from the sun actually inhibits the synthesis of melatonin. At night, synthesis of the hormone is complete, and it results in our body getting ready for sleep: decreased body temperature, alertness and performance.
This diagram from Wikipedia illustrates some of the physical responses to your circadian rhythm.
As shown above, your sleep wake cycle is regulated by a 24-hour clock. If you happen to travel across time zones, your body will not get its full 24 hours, which causes a hiccup in your circadian rhythm. Also, for those of us who work nights, our body works against its natural tendency, and this results in difficulty falling asleep, getting up or staying asleep.
Additionally, when you work long hours at work and get home late or when you feel nervous or sleep deprived, your body had trouble following its ideal sleep wake cycle.
So what can you do about it?
There are a few things that can help you restore your sleep wake cycle:
If all of these fail, there are also sleeping aids available on the market but you should be aware of the dangers of addiction or other side effects.
Some natural supplements also exist. These supplements contain melatonin to adjust the sleep wake cycle and restore your circadian rhythm.